Project Management with Reference to the Construction of the Roman Aqueducts

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The Roman engineers were the first in history to discover that proper management of men and resources could greatly decrease the time it takes to complete a construction project. The management structure the Romans employed on their many public construction projects was very simple, but very effective in communicating information through the appropriate channels. Coupling this management structure with previous experience, the Romans were able to increase the efficiency of their endless labour force. Given that no scriptures on the topic of project management have been discovered, it is hard to know whether the Romans knew exactly what they had achieved. However, even though they are more complex, the processes used today can be quite easily compared with the evidence we have found on Roman engineering methods.

The Romans used a simple system for managing large public construction projects. They are referred to as public projects because the Roman writers were men of power and status, and as such would not write about small projects carried out on farms, according to the presentations by Dr. J. Humphrey. Public projects were well funded by the state and because the state was involved, all of the slaves from conquered lands were available for use in construction, transportation or quarry and fabrication processes of a project (Monteleone, Yeung, Smith, 2007). The best way to describe the different levels of importance and power in a project is to quote the works of L. Sprague de Camp:

Roman engineering was mainly civil engineering: the building of roads, bridges, public buildings, and other permanent structures. A consul, senator, or other magistrate commanded the whole of such a governmental enterprise. Under him the architectus or engineer, in his turn, bossed a crew of minor technicians: agrimensores or surveyors, libratores or levellers, and others. In addition, private builders without special technical training practiced, for private landowners, the craft in which they had been reared. (Sprague De Camp, 1970)

The above passage is an excerpt from a book written in nineteenth century, so it is hard to judge whether it is credible. That being said, it provides a reasonable understanding of how the Romans conducted themselves in a construction hierarchy. There are no ancient sources to back up what was claimed by Mr. Sprague de Camp so it must be presumed that this assumption is correct. An important man in Roman history, Sextus Julius Frontinus, provides records of the men he had under his command including: “a staff of engineers, surveyors and clerks, as well as 700 slaves who worked as inspectors, foremen, masons, plumbers and plasterers” (Rae, Volti, 2001). From these two passages almost every rank that a man could have in a construction project is discussed. While this hierarchical structure was known to earlier civilizations, the Romans were the first to use education and planning to increase the productivity of some men, and provide others repetitive tasks so that they became very skilled in a limited way. The lowest positions were reserved for uneducated men with no position in society. Most often it was the slaves from other lands that were forced to perform tasks like quarry work or transportation of material. The next level of men had some training or past experience working with construction materials. This group of men was usually taken from among the infantry of one of the legions. They made up what would be the equivalent of our skilled labour force. Mostly classified into two categories: stone workers or masons and wood workers or carpenters. Even though stone was stronger and used more often as a construction material than wood, the carpenters were needed to erect the scaffolds that supported the workers during construction of stone arches. Likewise, carpenters were needed to build the large cranes used to lift huge stones to heights that would never be reached with simple man or animal power....
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